There is a peculiar philosophy of 'honor' that crops up in internet
games whenever real loss is unavoidable. When playing style="font-style: italic;">Counterstrike, or
(god forbid) trying to PvP in target="_blank">World
of Warcraft
, you kill the other guy and he loses
after a momentary delay the player respawns, good as new. While people
will occasionally get pissed off, the endless loss-free killing is the
whole purpose of these games and nothing is really taken away from the
loser. By contrast, in games like href="" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">EVE,
or the old pvp servers of href=""
a PvP death results in appreciable loss of assets. In these games, one
inevitably witnesses the rise of a self-serving form of 'e-honor' or,
in EVE's case, one might call it 'space bushido.'

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In an environment where there are no rules beyond might makes right,
intricate systems of mores develop that describe the socially
acceptable bounds of warfare. The most 'honorable' kind of fight is a
one-on-one duel; 'ganking' using multiple ships to attack a single
target is frowned upon, and a pilot who loses a fight yet behaves
honorably deserves 'respect' or 'props.' Certain taboos exist, such as
never deliberately disconnecting from the game to avoid a fight, never
using a 'login trap' to gain an advantage, or not using certain
'broken' ship setups. Among the many taboos of 'space bushido' is a ban
on espionage, because if one uses spies correctly, one can win an
engagement without ever actually fighting.

At its core, e-honor is a social construction that only benefits the
loser. The winner has already won, through whatever means; the loser
has lost substantial assets, and so is compelled to conceive of a
number of face-saving rationalizations. What space bushido provides the
loser is a way to cope with their loss: "Sure, I lost, but they ganked
me/used a login trap/violated a 1v1, so they have no honor." Another
oft-encountered saying is that a lost ship has no value, but a pilot's
honor is priceless.

All of this is harmless enough. People will swallow almost any
rationalization to feel better about themselves or cope with a loss; it
is human nature. The problem is that some people drink the e-honor
kool-aid too deeply, and begin playing EVE by a set of self-imposed
rules that simply do not exist for the rest of the playerbase. It is
this subset of the EVE population who often end up in an 'elite PvP'
0.0 alliance where the cultivation of an individual pilot's skill and
honor is exalted. Perversely, it is in 0.0 more than any other area of
the game that one needs to be willing to win at all costs. So we have
ended up with a galaxy full of curiously self-handicapped alliances
where military might may exist but the espionage capability is either
neglected or scorned openly as dishonorable. Of course, these entities
have managed to hold space - so, they argue, espionage is unnecessary.
Is it? Where would EVE without espionage leave us?

Two weeks ago, we in Goonswarm watched our
dear enemies, Against All
Authorities (-A-), spend four hours grimly defending against an
invasion of their home region, Catch, an invasion which my alliance was
supposed to spearhead. The only problem? There was no such invasion; it
was a figment of their alliance leader's fevered imagination, based on
a href=""
target="_blank">deliberately misleading post he
saw on a popular unofficial EVE forum. Four hundred pilots spending
four hours doing nothing amounts to 1600 man-hours wasted on chasing
shadows. When 'death' in EVE means the pixels of your internet
spaceship turn into a pretty flash of light, a player's time is often
the most valuable resource, not isk or hulls. If -A- had one competent
spy in Goonswarm - which is quite possibly the easiest alliance in EVE
to infiltrate due to our size - the agent could have noticed the lack
of any ops posted regarding Catch, or realized from time spent among
his targets that Goonswarm had no territorial ambitions besides Delve
and Querious. -A-'s lack of spies resulted in an alliance-level href="" target="_blank">snipe
hunt - but at least it wasn't 'dishonorable'.

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Another instance where a critical lack of espionage led to massive
failures on an alliance level: During the first Great War, which pitted
the RedSwarm Federation and the Northern Coalition against Band of
Brothers in Delve, there was a huge capital battle to attempt to
destroy a BoB Titan being built in a Capital Ship Assembly Array in the
system of F-TE1T. That system had two CSAAs present, and only one of
them had the target supercapital ship within; the other was empty. It
was bad enough that the  href=""
target="_blank">murderously costly assault caused
the largest single loss of capital ships at that point in the game.
Worse still, faulty intelligence on the part of Evil Thug of -A- (who
was, at that time, fighting against BoB) poised the assault to attack
the wrong CSAA - the one that was destroyed at such great cost was
empty. Insult to injury, however, was the fact that there never was a
Titan to begin with; the entire enterprise was completely pointless, as
the ship that was building in the 'correct' CSAA of F-TE1T was merely a
mothership. Oops. If the attacking forces had been more effective at
the spy game (and this included me) there never would have been a shot
fired in that system, as motherships are not a strategic threat.

Even if an alliance is philosophically opposed to spying and other
nefarious tactics, oftentimes the best method to defend oneself against
hostile agents is to infiltrate your enemy's organization to begin
with; hostile spies often post materials on their own forum which can
be traced or 'timestamped' to aid in counterintelligence. One of the
best examples of this came during Goonswarm's war against Lotka
Volterra (LV). Midway through the war, I discovered that LV had managed
to gain director-level access on Goonswarm's forums; I realized this
not because we were looking at our server logs, but because I was
reading LV's director forums myself, and one of their higher-ups had
begun posting copies of our forums there. In the subsequent bout of
utter panic and the ensuing forum lockdown, we managed to close the
security loophole through which LV was gaining access; if we hadn't had
our own director-level agent, we'd have remained compromised for god
knows how long.

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Espionage has been critical at the diplomatic and strategic level in
the recent conquest of Delve, beyond the obvious coup of disbanding
BoB. A significant factor in the war against KenZoku has been their
level of allied support by -A-. While the invading forces have been
able to easily take down KenZoku, the combined fleet of KenZoku plus
-A- and all their associated vassals could have thrown the war in the
opposite direction. However, because of our agents in -A-, we were able
to read a lengthy private forum thread entitled "Do you care what
happens to BoB?" in which most of the luminaries of -A- sounded off in
the negative - far from being loyal allies, -A- essentially couldn't
care less about KenZoku/BoB's fate; armed with this knowledge, we knew
to expect no serious commitment from Evil Thug and his people. Sure
enough, almost two weeks after every station in Delve had fallen, -A-
did come riding to the rescue - in a system right across the border
from their own territory, not in the more critical former home
territory of KenZoku. Perhaps due to their lack of motivation, this
counterattack has since stalled.

It might offend one's sense of space bushido, but espionage is and
always has been a critical aspect of internet spaceship wars. Ever
since the creation of alliances in EVE, the more successful ones have
relied on spies. If you skimp on spying, or worse decide that you're
'too good' for it, you end up helpless against those who treat the
craft with the attention it deserves. Whatever the views on offensive
espionage, without its own spies an alliance is essentially helpless
against hostile agents. Honor might provide cold comfort to the losing
side of an engagement, but when entire capital fleets and the time and
efforts of hundreds of pilots are on the line, there can be no
substitute. Ultimately, an alliance at war without an espionage
division is like a samurai trying to draw a sword against a gatling

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016